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Cleaning Up Breakfast

Consumers are demanding quick, on-the-go breakfasts that do not force them to compromise their high standards of health.


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Many health-conscious consumers wish they had the time to prepare an egg-white frittata or organic fruit salad with homemade granola for breakfast, but this is often just not the case. As modern consumers roll out of bed and pile children into the car, or rush off to begin their busy workdays, breakfast can easily get overlooked. Consumers who want a healthy start to their mornings are looking for quick and easy options that do not force them to lower their standards of what they will, and will not, put into their bodies. 

“People want the most bang for their buck when it comes to nutrition, especially fit people who are really health conscious,” says Jennifer Bacon, co-founder of Westminster, Colo.-based FlapJacked, a producer of better-for-you pancakes and muffin mixes that boast qualities like high-protein and gluten-free. “They’re really in tune with what they put into their bodies. People realizing that they are what they eat is a huge trend, and are eating great to feel great.” 

As Millennials become financially independent and have children of their own, the demand for a combination between health and convenience in breakfast products has quickly grown. Millennial consumers also have a tendency to eat breakfast foods at any given time of day, driving the sales of items that were once only munched on before noon, industry observers say. 

“Millennials are driving the trends—they aren’t sitting down for meals, they eat on-the-go and need convenient, resealable, portable products,” says Arjan Stephens, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Richmond, B.C., Canada-based Nature’s Path. “They don’t have time in the morning so they want something quick, easy and healthy. They are also blurring the lines between dayparts as well as meals and snacks—cereal isn’t just for breakfast for them, they are eating it as a snack or even for dinner.” 

Alison Bailey Vercruysse, founder of 18 Rabbits, a San Francisco-based producer of better-for-you granola and granola products that are developed right in Vercruysse’s kitchen, says her company has found the top three demographics that reach for its products. They are Millennials; “aspirational parents,” who might not have received the most nutritious food growing up but are looking to provide healthier options to their children; and “health mavens,” who are always looking for the newest and best things when it comes to health. Retailers can better-target these key demographics by keeping their aisles stocked with better-for-you items that appeal to the better-for-you breakfast crowd, and by also making sure the word gets out they are carrying products that meet the latest breakfast trends.  

“Our Millennial moms are savvier than ever and interested in living a healthy lifestyle. It is important that they are feeding themselves and their families great tasting products that make them feel good,” says Tracy Russell, director of marketing for Naples, Fla.-based Back to Nature Foods Co. “Our consumers are learning through word of mouth more than ever and are very active with technology, which is why we focus our marketing efforts on digital, bloggers and social media.” 

One of the most important qualities consumers are looking for in their morning meal is protein, which will power them through their day and keep them feeling full during that stressful early afternoon meeting. Good Food Made Simple has recognized that need, and just launched an extension on its breakfast scramble bowls; the new addition features uncured Canadian bacon and is packed full of protein. The company also offers breakfast burritos that give consumers the wholesome protein of eggs and combines them with ingredients that promise qualities like no antibiotics ever and no added hormones. According to Julia Khodabandeh, director of marketing for the Wellesley, Mass.-based company, sales of its breakfast burritos were up 34 percent in 2016 compared with the previous year, and the entire breakfast burrito segment was up 29 percent. 

“There’s a huge growth in breakfast handhelds as we see more consumers who are looking for healthier on-the-go options,” Khodabandeh says. “Certainly breakfast burritos can give them that portability.” 

Ruiz Foods recently rolled out its El Monterey Signature Simply Breakfast Egg, Turkey Sausage and Cheese Burrito, which is made with real scrambled eggs and whole grain tortillas. The breakfast burritos offer 11-grams of protein at only 220 calories per serving.

“El Monterey Signature Breakfast Burritos and El Monterey Signature Simply Breakfast Burritos offer great solutions right in the frozen food aisle, saving consumers time and money while making fueling up for the school day easy and convenient,” says Rachel Cullen, president and CEO of the Dinuba, Calif.-based company. 

A quick, healthy breakfast that offers high levels of protein does not necessarily have to come out of the microwave. In fact, recent innovations have shown high levels of protein can come in unexpected packages, such as FlapJacked’s lines of high-protein pancake and muffin mixes, and the new addition of its gluten-free pancake mixes. Bacon says these products offer health-conscious consumers a quick option that tastes great and provides some of the qualities they are looking for in their breakfasts. 

“A lot of people don’t eat pancakes anymore, they have become a dying dinosaur in the food aisles,” Bacon says. “But in the natural set, our pancakes just continue to rise and people are saying ‘I can have pancakes again.’”

Consumers have also been more wary of eggs in recent years as calorie and cholesterol concerns become more prevalent. Egg Beaters, a line from Chicago-based Conagra Brands, offers consumers the option to eat real eggs without worrying about these common health concerns. 

“With Egg Beaters, not only are people able to reap the benefits of a whole egg with only half the calories and zero cholesterol, they are also getting the convenience of not having to crack an egg,” says Ciare James, senior brand manager Conagra Brands. “This is especially useful on occasions where people are making larger dishes or preparing meals for a larger audience—for example, weekend brunch.”

In some cases, even heating up a breakfast burrito or preparing a pancake is too much of a time commitment for consumers on-the-go. Products such as wholesome cereals and granola can be life-savers for consumers who are in a rush and are looking to get as much nutrition into themselves, and their children, as possible. This struggle is especially true for parents who barely have a second to breath in the morning but are not willing to feed their children the sugary cereals that were once a staple in these types of situations. To fill this need, 18 Rabbits just launched its Chocolate Cherry Jr. Cereal. The new cereal offers kid-friendly flavors, like cherry and cocoa, combined with parent-friendly ingredients, like whole grains and seeds.

“It’s hard to believe there is a health gap in granola, but there are all of these indulgent cereals out there that are way too processed and refined,” Vercruysse says. “Creating something wholesome like granola and keeping it low-sugar but preserving that indulgent quality, like chocolaty or fruity, that’s what we’ve done in the junior cereals.”  

The Silver Palate has created a true “cereal of the future” that will be hitting shelves around March. The Cresskill, N.J.-based company worked with Texas A&M University, which employs experts on a member of the plant family called sorghum. The Silver Palate will now be including ONYX sorghum, a cross between high-tannin sorghum and black sorghum, in its popular Wheatberry Cereal. Onyx sorghum offers healthy benefits such as high levels of free radical-fighting antioxidants, naturally occurring dietary fiber and a sugar control function, which slows down the absorption of sugar in the system and reduces the glucose and insulin response, helping it defeat the negatives of sugar in the diet. 

“We’re always looking for unique health developments, and that’s what Grain Berry is all about,” says Robert Harris, chairman of The Silver Palate. “It starts with whole grain, which is not unique but is important, and then we add to it this new onyx that makes it a real gang-buster product. Onyx is a plant that we grow it ourselves, it is not synthetic.”

The breakfast segment is not immune to consumers’ aversion to GMOs, and there are plenty of breakfast products hitting shelves that proudly proclaim that they are GMO-free. Good Food Made Simple recently changed the packaging on its oatmeal to reflect its new Non-GMO Project verification, and Nature’s Path just launched Sunrise Breakfast Biscuits, organic and Non-GMO Project Verified breakfast biscuits designed to meet changing consumer lifestyles. Back to Nature Foods boasts a portfolio in which 90 percent of its products are non-GMO verified. Russell says Back to Nature Foods has seen an increase in customers choosing options like granola and cereal as the industry changes to meet their needs. The company also launched a line of cereals that are made with whole ancient and sprouted grains and high in both fiber and protein.  

“As consumers look for better-for-you breakfast options, we’ve seen strong trends on our granola business with the introduction of gluten-free and consumers are more and more interested in products with clean labels,” Russell says. 

While consumers are more health savvy than they have been in the past, there are also plenty of consumers who are unaware of better-for-you brands or are not willing to seek them out because they believe they will come at a higher price point. 

Bacon says a lot of companies have struggled with retailers’ lack of integration between better-for-you products and conventional brands. Natural and organic products are often segregated to a special section of the store, according to Bacon, and fail to catch consumers’ eyes unless the shopper is specifically looking through that section.

“If our products were brought in with conventional, toward the consumer who doesn’t always walk the natural aisle it could benefit the retailer,” she says. “Take the typical consumer walking down the aisles of the grocery store; they see a natural section and they will either gravitate toward it or avoid it, mostly because they perceive it as more expensive.” 

Vercruysse agrees, saying, “giving wellness brands prominent placement at eye-level and using displays that create a point of disruption or endcaps can help can help get wellness products off the shelves.”  

Bacon adds that if these consumers who are not actively looking for better-for-you brands were to see a clean, high-protein pancake mix option sitting next to national brands, they might be more likely to pick it up. 

“Most consumers who walk down the aisle don’t realize that there are healthier options out there, they just choose from what they see on the shelves,” she says.     

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